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Lord Dormand of Easington: Will the noble Baroness say what should happen in an area where there is no parish council but a parish meeting? I happen to live in a village where there is a very active parish meeting which is very interested in local affairs. It seems to me that this amendment would deprive those people of the representation about which the noble Baroness properly feels strongly.
Baroness Byford: Indeed, it was my intention that there should be a representative from the parish council. As I say, the parish council is a democratically elected group and elects a person to serve on the local primary school committee. If I am not making sense, I am sorry.
Baroness Byford: No, indeed, I do not see why they cannot be represented. If I have erred in some way, then I will bring the matter back at the next stage. The whole idea of these amendments is to be inclusive, so that we can have good representation at local level in schools. I have waited hours to speak in this debate. I wondered whether I should be speaking on the day on which I had thought to speak, or the day after. The whole debate is to make sure that the closest elected body is not precluded. At present, the Bill suggests that those people have the chance to be included and they are open-minded on the matter. But they are not there to serve as of right, as they are at present. That is my understanding. I shall wait to hear what the Minister has to say.
Baroness Maddock: I rise to speak to similar amendments standing in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Tope, who cannot be with us, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I shall not reiterate the arguments as they relate to our amendments because the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has set them out fully and we have heard enough repetition in these debates. We have been heavily lobbied by people outside this House. The noble Lord was concerned about parish meetings. Our proposal is to keep the legislation that already exists. If the noble Lord wishes parish meetings to be included, I suggest that he proposes an amendment. I should be happy to support it. The point is that we do not want to lose the representation that parish councils have now.
Our amendments are slightly different from the Conservative amendments. They include community councils in Wales and give the right to appoint a governor to every school in a parish. The Minister will introduce an amendment which recognises some of the concerns that we all have, and I shall listen carefully to her remarks. However, on examination, and after discussing it with others, it appears not to go quite so far as we should like it to go. It is just a little disappointing. At this time of night, it seems incredibly mean. We have waited until this time to deal with one of the parts of the Bill on which we have been lobbied by many groups. Given the strength of feeling, I cannot understand why the Government cannot go the whole way on this. If I understand correctly, they are saying that they put the matter in the hands of the governors and that minor authorities are given the right to nominate but do not have full nomination rights; the other governors must consider whether they will co-opt the minor authority nomination. I may have got that wrong. This matter was debated in the other place. It is an issue that people care about. Can we have a bit of caring at twenty-five past midnight, please?
Baroness Blackstone: As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, suggested, I am aware of the strength of feeling among minor authorities about our proposal to withdraw their right to appoint school governors for some categories of primary schools. We have assured them that there will continue to be an opening for minor authority
Turning first to Amendment No. 146D, I am aware that not all LEAs are equally diligent about appointing LEA nominees to governing bodies. It is clearly unacceptable for vacancies to be carried for many months, with the governing body deprived of another useful pair of hands. For this reason, the Government have some sympathy with Amendment No. 146D, which would require an LEA to consult any district, town or parish council covering the area served by the school before appointing LEA governors. But we believe that these matters are more appropriate for guidance on good practice rather than legislation. I hope it is helpful to the noble Baronesses on both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches to say that we intend to encourage LEAs in the strongest terms to be mindful of minor authority links in making their own appointments, particularly where they are having difficulty in identifying sufficient appropriate LEA nominees, as we know they sometimes do. However, we do not feel that legislation would be appropriate as it would impede the ability of democratically elected LEAs to consider freely who should represent them.
It is also the case that the proposed statutory code of practice on LEA-school relations covers appointments to governing bodies. It states that LEAs should publish the process and criteria by which they will identify candidates for appointment as LEA governors and make those appointments promptly. In the guidance we shall issue on reconstituting school governing bodies we intend to give strong encouragement to LEAs to consider minor authority nominees, particularly in cases where they are finding it difficult to fill their places. But a great deal will depend upon local circumstances. To impose a blanket requirement on all LEAs to consult, even in cases where they had no need or intention to open up their lists, would only arouse expectations which could not be fulfilled. Providing another route for minor authorities via LEAs would be confusing and blur accountability at local level.
I should like to turn now to the two different sets of proposals to add minor authority governors or parish or town council governors to school governing bodies. While it is true that we have received a great many representations in favour of maintaining the status quo, both sets of amendments go very much further than that. To accept these amendments would result in minor authorities having considerably more influence on governing bodies than they do at present. Amendments 146G to 146N make no distinction between primary and secondary schools. Maybe that was just a mistake in the drafting. Under existing legislation and under our
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, does not suggest that a minor authority governor should be appointed at foundation schools. However, Amendment No. 146J, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would require such schools to have a "parish or town" councillor governor appointed collectively by the parish or town councils covering the area served by the school.
It is a bit surprising that a Conservative amendment should require foundation schools to have a parish or town council governor. As Members of the Committee will appreciate, it is not unheard of for either town or parish councillors to be politically aligned--it is particularly likely in the former case. I fear therefore that this would cut across the undertaking we have already given to GM schools that no more than two local authority appointees should be added to foundation school governing bodies, irrespective of size or circumstances.
The Government gauged very carefully the appropriate level of local authority representation on foundation school governing bodies. The amendment would increase that representation and we understand that such a proposal would be unwelcome to the existing grant-maintained sector. The previous government made no provision for minor authority representation on grant-maintained school governing bodies. The Government do not wish to perpetuate unnecessary divisions between different categories of school. That is why we would wish to give all primary schools the right to decide for themselves whether minor authority representation is appropriate for them.
I note that Amendment No. 146F perpetuates the current unsatisfactory position of joint appointments by minor authorities acting collectively which provides no means of determining a dispute if the parties cannot agree. Those decisions should be made locally, but we know from experience that minor authorities are not always able to secure agreement. To rely on local agreements is unworkable and the Secretary of State does not feel that it should continue to be a function of the department operating from Whitehall to determine disputes of that kind.
I turn now to the Government's amendments relating to minor authority representation. Amendment No. 146U amends paragraph 15 of Schedule 9 to place on the face of the Bill the duty for governing bodies of primary schools serving minor authority areas to consider co-opting minor authority nominees. Where a primary school is served by more than one minor authority, it will be open to the governing body to approach any one or more of those authorities as they see fit. Special provision is made for voluntary-aided schools, which do not generally have
Amendment No. 208A is consequential to Amendment No. 146U. Placing the provisions on minor authority representation on the face of the Bill enables this amendment to Clause 78 to allow for a co-opted governor nominated by a minor authority to be an ex officio trustee at a foundation or voluntary school. That follows the spirit of the existing legislation which allows the governors appointed by foundations, LEAs or minor authorities, to be ex officio trustees at foundation or voluntary schools.
Bringing provision for minor authority representation on the face of the Bill now requires the term "minor authority" to be defined in the Bill. Accordingly, Amendment No. 255C inserts a new clause defining the circumstances under which a maintained school would be regarded as serving an area for which there is a minor authority. I point out to my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington that a parish meeting will provide the representative where there is no parish council. It provides for minor authorities to be either parish councils or parish meetings where there is no parish council, community councils in Wales or district councils. Town councils are included in the reference to parish councils. Where a school is not situated within a parish or unitary authority, the clause allows for more than one district council to be regarded as a minor authority.
Finally, Amendment No. 257S adds a reference to a minor authority in the index of expressions set out in Clause 131. I would like to assure all concerned that there is no intention to undermine the quality of rural life or indeed to undervalue the enormous contribution which representatives on minor authorities make to their communities or to the schools which serve them. We believe that the majority of primary schools, given the choice, would still wish to include a minor authority governor as a co-opted representative.
We understand the uncertainty that many minor authority interests have felt over the Government's intentions and that is why we have decided, given the very obvious strength of feeling on the issue, to make those intentions clear on the face of the Bill instead of in regulations as originally intended. Alongside those regulations we plan to issue strong guidance urging governing bodies to consider co-opting a minor authority nominee to represent the local community. We also plan to ask LEAs to consider nominating such individuals themselves. We have reflected very carefully on this issue, as I hope what I have said indicates. But on balance we believe that the decision should be left to governing bodies themselves.
As I indicated, we have received a great many representations on this matter although we have received hardly any from the schools themselves and none at all from LEAs. Our proposals for the constitution of governing bodies are consistent with the rest of our proposals for the governing bodies. Our desire is to see schools treated more equitably and to ensure that governing bodies are kept to a reasonable size. By "reasonable size" we mean with sufficient governors to